Seattle Setting Example for Community Gardens Nationwide

Aug 9, 2013

Seattle started its first city-sponsored P-Patch program 40 years ago. To help mark the anniversary, the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) is holding its national conference here. Gardeners from more than 30 states and six foreign countries are attending.

LaManda Joy, who helped bring the conference here and runs a nonprofit group teaching people how to grow their own food in Chicago, says Seattle’s success of combining government support with people power is inspirational.

“You know, you guys sort of wrote the book on community gardening. And it’s a great example for other cities around the country. I mean, I really think it’s the jewel in the crown of the American community gardening scene,” Joy said.

Seattle now has 82 neighborhood pea patches, 24 of which are new or expanded, thanks to a voter-approved parks levy in 2008. The city estimates at least six thousand gardeners are actively involved, and says many more enjoy the spirit they bring to the community.

Rich MacDonald with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods says since the P-Patch program first started decades ago, it has inspired a local movement of urban agriculture, with people adding everything from bees to chickens, to goats to their plots. He says most of the P-Patches also have gardening beds that are devoted to supplying food banks.

“So every year, they give about 10 tons of produce to local food banks and hot meal programs,” he said.

MacDonald says Seattle is learning from other communities about new trends for more densely-populated areas, such as rooftop gardening. And more and more people are creating impromptu community gardens, for example by converting their parking strips into joint projects with their neighbors.

ACGA Vice President Bill Maynard works for the city of Sacramento, which has just increased its funding for community gardens. He says more and more local governments are recognizing how beneficial they can be.

"Parks and rec departments are starting to realize that community gardens can be a vital part of a program, just like a skate park or a dog park. A community garden is a new asset the residents are asking for, nationally," Maynard said.

The conference is hosting twelve tours this weekend that showcase Seattle’s gardens: everything from rooftop gardens to farm gardens, to therapy and school gardens.